Ketchikan mayor edits meet-the-author script

Posted: Tuesday, September 12, 2000

What was Scholastic Inc. thinking when it excluded Alaska's (and Hawaii's) school students from competing in a not-quite-national essay contest whereby 10 winners and their parents will get to meet J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter books, in New York?

The contest concept is laudable. With the Harry Potter phenomenon, good literature has merged with pop culture. Kids all over the world are reading and talking to each other, their parents and their teachers about what they read. What a great idea to reward some young readers with the opportunity to meet Rowling by asking them to describe "How the Harry Potter Books Have Changed My Life." But what a horrible mistake to jettison the kids in the 49th and 50th states.

Prepared as we are to spew indignant, we don't have to, thanks to Ketchikan Mayor Bob Weinstein and the state's public school librarians. It was the librarians who first noted the exclusion and who contacted Scholastic, which gave them the corporate brush-off. That prompted Weinstein to get involved.

"The exclusion of Alaskan children is an outrage," Weinstein said in a letter he sent to Richard Robinson, chairman, president and CEO of Scholastic, Inc. "Scholastic's treatment of Alaskans - particularly our children - as second-class citizens reminds me of the colonialist attitude which the federal government often displays to our state and residents."

Weinstein, who is the father of a 9-year-old Potter fan, reminded Scholastic that its annual sales exceed $1 billion and suggested the company probably could afford to cover the cost of getting a child from Alaska to New York. Weinstein accented Scholastic's cheapness by arranging with Alaskan Airlines to have any Alaskan student who happened to win the contest flown to Seattle, from which Scholastic could pick up the tab to and from New York.

Can you spell corporate embarrassment?

Scholastic's Robinson can and he knows the smell of a public relations disaster when it develops under his nose. On Monday, Scholastic leveled and widened the playing field. Alaskan children are as eligible to compete as any Potter fanatic in the Lower 48. Scholastic said it will pay the cost of the entire trip if an Alaskan student is one of the winners.

All of us who value fairness extend our gratitude to Mayor Weinstein and the state's librarians for speaking up so effectively on behalf of our kids and our state. We can hope that the final chapter of this tale will involve one of our young readers submitting a winning essay.

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